Thursday, June 12, 2008

NCMR2008: Faith Based Community Organizing and Media Reform

A little reporting from the National Conference on Media Reform

I got to the first of the panels I attended, Faith-Based Community Organizing and Media Reform, a little late, so missed out on why some of the listed folks weren’t there. Attending were Rev. Ben Guess from the United Church of Christ (a cute gay preacher in jeans, a white shirt, and a top-of-the-ear piercing), Rev. Romal Tune in suit with kerchief (the muted/flashy black minister outfit), local organizer Vic Rosenthal (imagine a Jewish Garrison Keillor) and Kathy Partridge, an energetic and competent Unitarian head of a feisty faith foundation.

The program promised to:

(highlight) the successes of the faith community in social justice organizing, while looking ahead to how media justice organizers and faith organizers can reinforce each other's message. The media is often a barrier to social justice organizing, but working together, the two sectors can further strengthen their communities.

Media reformers and faith based organizers are in the early stages of getting to know each other. They United Church of Christ has been involved in communication as a justice issue for a while; they got a royal corporate media smackdown when NBC and CBS refused to run some of their commercials in 2004. Saying the commercials were ‘too controversial’, they were denied access to our privatized airwaves. (The real controversy – the UCC were calling out the biased churches of the cultural Right for being closed to whole sectors of society)

The UCCs rock pretty hard. They give grants for churches that are part of their radio ministry, so long as they

  • Communicate God’s radical acceptance and extravagant welcome;
  • Reach out to the alienated, the excluded, the spiritually homeless, the questioning;
  • Make a home for all in the life of their congregations.

A lot of the panel was the explanation of what faith-based community organizing WAS, and less how the two are getting together. Romal Tune and Vic Rosenthal gave their perspectives – Romal from that of black churches, and Vic told the story about the immigration raid on the big kosher meat plant in Iowa. They spoke more about how the media is not your friend, if you care about workers, or black folk, or immigrants.

A big part of the narrative of this convention – which was also the case at the first convention in Madison, which I also attended – was about whether the ‘reform movement’ was broad enough for everyone, if it focused too much on legislative solutions and electoral politics and not enough on poor people, black people, and those who need a bigger dose of media justice. This panel seemed to be laying the table for a discussion around just those issues in the context of faith based organizing. Here’s what it is, media movement. Where are we going to be able to move together? What can we do?

My media plus organizer dream would be the creation by the faith communities of the left of a communications infrastructure like the right-wing churches have, particularly radio and cable. With a possible political sea change in the wind, maybe the low power FM licenses will be available again, and we can see gay pastors from welcoming churches rubbing radio elbows with black preachers and anti-poverty advocates on new neighborhood stations.

(Crossposted at Bitch PhD)

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